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Marketing on the Cheap

Part 2 - Newspaper Ins and Outs

By Mike Polo


The newspaper is a good, inexpensive way to get the word out… if used properly. Advertising is just one way to make the paper work for you. Remember press releases? Most papers have at least one person, full time, who does nothing but work with press releases. And then, of course, the highlight of a newspaper campaign - the news story. But let's start with the basics.

Press Releases

There are certain essential things that have to be in a press release: who, what, when, where, how and how much. The first four are pretty obvious, as is the last; "how" is "how do I get more information (tickets, donate money, whatever). The trick is to make the release interesting enough to get published.

In a press release publicizing a show, don't make the mistake of providing a plot synopsis. Tantalize, tease and generate interest. Use the play's exposition to your benefit. Ask questions: "Who poisoned the health resort owner? Who will be the next to die?" You get the idea. One cardinal sin here is to be dry: "A mystery set in a health club" has no punch whatsoever.

So when should you send out press releases? Every chance you get.

  • Season Announcement -- Announce your season and push those season tickets.
  • Audition Notice - Get the word out… you never know who's out there.
  • Cast Announcement - Let the public know who's going to be in the show… and push those show dates.
  • Opening Night - Try to make as big a splash as possible.
  • Performances Continuing - The following week, be sure to have something there to continue the momentum.

The last three press releases should also include something else - good quality photographs. Black and white prints always go over well, although more and more papers are using more color. Check with the paper and see which they prefer.

Paid Advertising

Paid advertising can be cheaper than you think. Most papers will cut a non-profit a break. If they won't, you know what your schedule is, so you can probably buy in advance and get a break that way. The ad rep will be more than happy to show you how you can save a few pennies. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

If you have a graphic designer who creates your programs and flyers, try to have them design your ad. It will give a more unified look to all your materials, and they will probably design something a little more eye-catching than the paper's in-house staff would do.

If you do end up relying on the paper to do your layout, don't be afraid to speak up and tell them what you want. After all, you're paying for it. Don't see your ad for the first time when you pick it up off the sidewalk.

If you can buy in more than one paper, do it. If you can't afford that, try to get an idea of which paper is most likely to do you the most good. We've had at lot of luck using the local weekly paper, rather than the daily. People seem to read it a little closer. We've built up quite a relationship over the years, and they come over and do a story on each show.

News Story

Weekly papers are more likely to give you a story than the dailies. Weeklies have more room and tend to be more community-oriented than dailies. But it never hurts to ask. Follow up on your press releases by giving a call and inviting the paper to send a reporter.

If you do end up being interviewed for a news story, remember three things: 1) talk as though everything you say will end up in the story, but not necessarily in the right order, 2) NOTHING you say is ever really "off the record"… that just looks good on TV, and 3) you will not get to approve the story before it is printed.

Whole books have been written on the art of the interview, all of them full of great advice; "don't be rushed," " think over every answer," etc. The best advice in each of them is summed up above.

Next Time

Next we'll look into one of my favorite topics: how to talk a radio station into promoting your show. That one's gonna be fun.

Marketing on the Cheap - Part 3


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